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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 03:10 GMT 04:10 UK
UN launches Afghan aid appeal
An Afghan refugee mother feeds her child whilst begging
Millions are facing starvation this winter
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has launched an emergency appeal for $584m to aid millions of Afghans facing starvation in Afghanistan and bordering countries.

Mr Annan said that Afghanistan and its neighbours have seen a 50% increase in the number of people relying on aid for survival, from five million to 7.5m people.

The crisis in Afghanistan is already serious, but we also have to be ready to deal with extra dimensions of the crisis

Kofi Annan
Mr Annan said he was seeking the funds for a new six-month UN plan to deal with the crisis, which the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Earlier UK Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a "humanitarian coalition" to help the people of Afghanistan, saying that international aid to tackle the effect of years of war and famine must go alongside any military action.

Click here for map of Afghanistan

Almost half the money being sought by the UN - $273m - will go to the UN refugee agency to handle an increase of 1.5m people who are expected to flee Afghanistan amid fears of impending US attacks.

Another $188m is earmarked for food aid.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan
Thousands are setting up home in refugee camps

"The crisis in Afghanistan is already serious, but we also have to be ready to deal with extra dimensions of the crisis," Mr Annan said as he launched the appeal.

Millions of Afghans were already dependent on outside aid for their survival after decades of war and three years of severe drought

The situation worsened when foreign aid workers left the country as the US threatened retaliation against the Taleban for harbouring Osama Bin Laden, the man suspected of masterminding the terror attacks in America.

Air drops

Pakistan and Iran are already hosting 3.5 million Afghan refugees - the largest refugee group in the world.

But while thousands have been heading for surrounding countries, most Afghans are too poor and hungry even to be able to travel to the international borders, the BBC's Afghanistan correspondent Kate Clark says.

UN wheat bags
The UN is gearing up for a massive influx of refugees

Aid agencies are saying that up to eight million people inside Afghanistan are now expected to need food aid this winter.

Noting that most UN staff had already left Afghanistan, Mr Annan said "we may have to consider air drops" to deliver food.

Earlier British Prime Minister Tony Blair stressed the need to build a humanitarian coalition to tackle the crisis, insisting that the fight was against terrorism not the Afghan people.

"Our fight is not with Islam or with the people of Afghanistan. Our fight is with those who planned these terrible atrocities and those who harbour them," he said.

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The BBC's Emil Petrie
"The UN says Afghanistan is an almost impossible environment to work in"
UK International Development secretary, Clare Short
"We need to open borders and get food into Afghanistan"
Ofam's director for Afghanistan John Fairhurst
"Oxfam is pleased that donors are reacting positively"
See also:

27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Afghanistan's future
27 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair calls for aid alliance
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghans brace for US strike
11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
22 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's fear of refugee flood
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Afghan instability
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
The wild border town of Quetta
26 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghans place hopes in UN
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